Daytime drama Doctors has always danced to its own tune, to the delight of its 1.6 million viewers, and the hour long episode to mark its 20th birthday is no exception. Taking its cue from real life TV shows like 24 Hours in A&E it follows a documentary crew recording a day in the life of The Mill Health Centre in Birmingham with core cast doing talking heads interviews to camera whilst dramatic events unfold onscreen.
Back on the team for A Day at the Mill is Diane Keen as beloved former practice manager Julia Parsons who along with guest stars Georgia May Foote (Coronation Street’s Katy Armstrong) and Matt Bardock (Casualty’s Jeff Collier) is at the heart of the action alongside cast regulars with a few Easter egg treat appearances adding to the celebratory tone.
At a press preview screening Diane Keen, who joined the show in 2003 and was last seen onscreen in 2012, admitted to being “absolutely proud” of the show and the ways in which it has developed over the past two decades.
“It’s worthy of any show that’s on television at the moment,” says Keen. “It really is. I am so proud of it and proud of the fact that from this tiny programme that may or may not have worked has grown exponentially. Watching this new episode was just awesome.”
“I think our core audience are going to love seeing all these characters on that sofa,” adds Chris Walker who plays police sergeant Rob Hollins. “They’re going to find that a real treat.”
Executive Producer Mike Hobson who was also on the show for its 1000th, 2000th and 3000th episodes decided with regular show writer Toby Walton to pitch something different this time, deciding on the documentary approach.
“We came up with this pitch that we really thought could involve all of our cast and be a real treat for the audience,” says Hobson. “I think we managed that. We got everybody in.”
Despite its daytime slot Doctors has never been afraid to tackle issues like child trafficking, domestic abuse and PTSD. Chris Walker and Jan Pearson won a British Soap Award in 201o for Best Onscreen Partnership for their harrowing domestic scenes. which were even commended by the Royal Marines.
“A Royal Marine contacted me and was incredibly complimentary saying he shows all the young recruits some of those episodes saying that this is what can happen to you,” says Walker. “Things like that are wonderful. I cried. Lots of shows do that but we do it a lot.”
The anniversary nimbly switches between life and death decisions and every day lighter moments, a trademark of the show.
“We tried to get some heavy drama in and some light relief as we do,” says Mike Hobson. “A bit of light and shade. There’s a few serious issues in there. Doctors is not afraid of tackling issues. We’ve tackled absolutely everything.”
The show also added to its illustrious array of guest stars with Georgia May Foote and Matt Bardock following in the footsteps of Richard Briers, Jodie Comer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Eddie Redmayne. On average there are 800 plus guests a year supplementing the core cast of 12.
“Phoebe Waller-Bridge played a restaurant manageress,” says Mike Hobson. “Lots of people have been through the door and gone on to do things. Eddie Redmayne did a piece for the Evening Standard where he said the happiest day of his life was when he was phoned up by his agents who said he’d got the part in Doctors.”
“It’s the Who’s Who of British TV,” adds Chris Walker. “For all those incredible people to say ‘yes’ explains why the show is so loved.”
Doctors 20th Anniversary episode A Day at the Mill is on BBC One at 1.45pm Thursday 26th March.